ProsUltra-compact footprint; sleek styling; inexpensive
ConsMetal fabrication quality control issues; missing motherboard stands; average ventilation
The Zalman ZM-T2 is an ultra-compact micro ATX (mATX) case, providing the smallest footprint of any mATX on the market, as far as we're aware of. With dimensions of 6.65" wide, 13.7" deep, and 16.73" high, its footprint is just 91 square inches, which is significantly smaller than even most mini-ITX cases. If you are short on floor or desk space, this is definitely a case you should be considering.
The ZM-T2 is relatively basic when it comes to features. It has two USB 2.0 ports on the top panel, just above the optical drive bay, along with a single 92mm rear fan. It can accommodate a single 120mm fan in front (in either a low- or mid-mounted position, a couple of 92mm side fans (which we wouldn't recommend), or according to the product literature, two 120mm top fans. It turns out, however, that the 120mm fan spot towards the front of the case simply cannot be used if an optical drive is mounted in the 5.25" external drive bay, so we consider that a non-starter. Also of note is the bottom-mounted power supply position, which keeps the case firmly grounded (rather than top-heavy), and also reduces cable clutter. It has solid rubber feet to raise it off the floor (which you'll appreciate, given that the power supply can only be mounted with its fan positioned downwards), as well as what Zalman refers to as mesh fan intake covers, but which looked more like metal grates to us - they certainly won't stop dust, but they will stop air, so we removed them.
Assembling the ZM-T2 was a bit different compared to a typical case, even most mATX cases. To minimize its size, Zalman resorted to vertical drive mounts - one 3.5" mount on the inside of the front panel, and an additional 3.5" mount and 2.5" mount on a removable cage (shown below with a 2.5" drive installed). This gives you some flexibility in choosing the number of drives you want to use without leaving a lot of interior volume empty. On the flipside, the removable drive panel does make it difficult to access components inside the case, and makes it impossible to install a video card over 9.5" without removing the panel. No big deal, but something to take into consideration if you do a lot of tinkering.
Overall, performance was good - with the shielded front fan inlet, the case is very quiet, but do keep in mind that airflow suffers as a result. Despite adding an optional front-mounted 120mm fan, our test system's midrange video card still heated up more than we were entirely comfortable with. We also weren't big fans of the buzzy 92mm rear fan shipped with the case - that's all that will fit in the rear fan mount, but we just ended up removing it and mounting a 120mm top fan instead, which resulted in quieter operation and temperatures at least as good. A few other nitpicks worth mentioning: the power supply rear mounting bracket was warped, meaning it took a lot of extra effort to bend the metal bracket into place while screwing in the power supply, and one motherboard offset stand was missing from the package, meaning we weren't able to secure all corners of the motherboard. One last note - the sleek-looking trap door for the optical bay caught on the DVD tray of our optical drive every time it closed, which was a minor annoyance.
It may seem like we're not that excited about the case. That's basically true. Nothing other than its ultra-small footprint stands out as worthy of mention, but that may mean a lot to the right buyer, especially at the ZM-T2's very reasonable price. If you're looking for a sleek, compact case to build a home office PC or high-end HTPC, this could be the case you've been looking for. High-end gamers, on the other hand, probably ought to look elsewhere.
The Zalman ZM-T2 was available from Amazon for $40 at the time of publication, but is no longer in production.